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Diversity & Inclusion at NWO-I: an update

DIFFER, ASTRON and NIOZ about their local D&I initiatives

At the beginning of 2023, project leader Judith Kreukels started to roll out the NWO-I Implementation Plan Diversity & Inclusion (D&I) for the personnel policy. Since then, various activities have taken place, such as a lecture about neurodiversity and a network event around International Women’s Day. In addition, P&O and communication advisors from NWO-I have received training, and the Employee Resource Group (ERG) LGBTIQA+ has been further developed. Besides which, each institute now also engages with D&I via the agenda of the local D&I teams. Judith and her colleagues David van Walderveen (DIFFER), Harrianne ter Meer (ASTRON), Harmen Buijst (ASTRON) and Tara Mahendrarajah (NIOZ) tell us about the progress each of them has made with D&I.

Local D&I teams

Judith has been D&I project leader for more than a year at the NWO-I office in Utrecht when we interview her. However, she is not always to be found there because of her regular visits to D&I teams at institutes spread throughout the Netherlands. Judith: “‘Each institute has its own team and each of these teams engages with this theme in its own way and with its own team composition. Even the name of each D&I team differs per institute. However, we all seek to realise the same goal: a diverse and inclusive organisation in which everybody feels at home. And this autumn, I also hope to be able to organise a joint training day with all D&I teams.”


Diversity at DIFFER

At DIFFER, we talk with David van Walderveen, team leader strategic support and also a member of the D&I team at the institute in Eindhoven. He explains that DIFFER has an active D&I team with a broad representation from within the organisation: a management team member, a PhD researcher, group leader and a technician. “We are making serious work of this”, says David. “That is because there is a lack of women in engineering and science at DIFFER. Plus our management team is solely made up of men. We are therefore working to render our vacancies more visible to women and we aim to actively recruit them. However, equal opportunities continue to be a cornerstone of our hiring process and only in the case of equal suitability will a woman be preferred for the position.”

D&I also plays a role on the work floor, says David with a smile. “Each month we have DIFFER café, a pleasant after-work drinks with colleagues. Together with a few colleagues, I organised the last one with the theme ‘Drag Bingo Extravaganza’. Men came wearing dresses and women stuck on moustaches. I’m very pleased that something like this can take place at DIFFER.”

We believe it is important to incorporate diversity and inclusion in everything we do and to create an environment where everybody can be themselves. That means we participate in all D&I activities organised by NWO-I but we also consider continuity to be important. Therefore, the rainbow flag flies at our institute each day instead of just twice yearly on Diversity Day and Coming Out Day.”

“The theme D&I has not yet been fully concretised”, says David. He emphasises that it is often difficult to measure the effect of individual measures. “But DIFFER has good intentions and that is what matters.”


Diversity at ASTRON

NWO Institute ASTRON, with locations in Dwingeloo and Westerbork, also has the ambition to be a diverse and inclusive organisation. Therefore, a D&I plan has been written with the strong encouragement of ASTRON director Jessica Dempsey, and input from a diverse group of employees. That plan is now being elaborated. Furthermore, Harm Buist has been appointed as Vitality Officer. ASTRON’s P&O manager Harrianne ter Meer tells us more about Harm’s appointment: ‘The basis for a diverse and inclusive organisation is a healthy organisation with vibrant employees’. Harm: ‘My mission is to ensure that all ASTRON employees experience greater work satisfaction and feel healthier, and that they can get the best out of themselves during their work.’

Harrianne: ‘For the moment, our efforts to bring about greater diversity and inclusion mainly focus on the gender-inclusive selection of candidates. With this, we make an extra effort to recruit women. When it comes to our technical, ICT and scientific positions, we do not believe that these women candidates do not exist. However, we do believe we need to make a greater effort to find them. We now work with a recruitment manual in which all steps are recorded so that we can recruit and select as objectively as possible. For instance, together with our communication department, we developed an exemplary vacancy text that appeals to both women and men. In addition, we try to select candidates as objectively as possible. We do this, for example, by asking all candidates identical, predetermined questions about their qualifications in the job posting. After the interview, all selection committee members first assess each candidate themselves according to a predetermined score list. The full selection committee then compares the scores of the candidates and selects those with the best scores for the next step. For this, our P&O advisers took part in the Inclusive Recruitment and Selection training.’


Diversity at NIOZ

Institute NIOZ is the only NWO Institute that counts two different groups involved in diversity. A more formal D&I team with representatives from all departments focuses on the NIOZ diversity and inclusion policy and aligns this with the NWO-I policy. In addition, there is a self-organised/bottom-up IDEA team that focuses on Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Accessibility.

Postdoc Tara Mahendrarajah is part of this IDEA group at NIOZ and tells us about it. 'Our group started in 2020 as a ‘grassroots group’ with postdocs and PhD students from NIOZ. A small group of us followed an online seminar series called URGE (Unlearning Racism in Geoscience) just after the death of George Floyd (a black American man who was murdered in the United States in 2020 by a white police officer, ed.). With a greater understanding of the need for D&I discussion in academia and at NIOZ, we started to organise our own seminars and lectures as part of the newly formed IDEA group. IDEA facilitates a monthly coffee hour; an informal space to discuss D&I topics, and serves as a safe space for colleagues to voice their concerns. In addition, IDEA also arranges more formal educational seminars by invited speakers. Recent topics include ‘Getting to know the confidential counsellors and the health & safety officers at our institute’. Speakers have also discussed issues related to decolonising science and academia, including understanding how imperialism and colonialism are embedded in the past and present of geoscience and oceanography. This includes understanding the best practices for including indigenous communities and knowledge systems in current research initiatives. And how to include communities and researchers from the Global South in the production and dissemination of research. And, recently, we had a guest teaching us about decolonising science: being considerate to native populations and the indigenous community, when conducting scientific field research in a non-Western country.'

Tara is very passionate about the group, which now consists of approximately 45 members. The IDEA team works together with the D&I group. 'Both groups have connected and continue to move forward as colleagues come and go as their careers move on. We jointly promote NWO-I-wide events such as Diversity Day, and we are happy that NIOZ Academy provides training on topics that are of interest to both our groups.'

'We are also proud to have a voice in the NIOZ online personnel magazine ‘VOICES’ on our intranet', Tara explains. 'There we regularly contribute articles and share ideas about ‘How to be more inclusive at the NIOZ’ and ‘Tips for marginalised groups to safely conduct fieldwork’. And we like targeting senior scientists who are in the stages of designing fieldwork excursions and thinking about what considerations must be made for certain groups in different countries and locations, for example colleagues from the LGBTIQA+ community.'


ERG Women+ and ERG Neurodiversity

Besides the local D&I teams at the institutes and the NWO-I office, the organisation also has Employee Resource Groups (ERGs). These are voluntary groups led by employees that, in consultation with the organisations where they work, seek to realise a diverse and inclusive work environment. In last month’s edition (April) of Inside NWO-I, we published an article about the launch of the ERG LGBTIQA+ and the kick-off event that will take place on 22 May.

Judith announces that the ERG Women + is now being developed as well. “Last February and September, we had two (network) events for women from NWO and NWO-I. Via de ERG, women and non-binary people can support each other through mentorships. Within the group, they can also talk about changing the style of management. There is a need for a more empathic style of leadership, and making it possible to discuss themes such as the work-life balance, the problem of structural overtime and how people can deal with family planning (the choice if and when to have children in relation to career planning, ed.). It is recognised that these are not just things that women and non-binary people come up against.”

“Some events are therefore open to everybody, while others are only for women and non-binary people so as to offer a safe environment in which to discuss sensitive themes. In fact, an appeal will soon go out to coordinate this NWO/NWO-I-wide ERG Women+!”, says Judith.

In addition, efforts are being made to set up an ERG Neurodiversity. In October 2023 – during Diversity Day – NWO/NWO-I organised a lecture about this. Neurodiversity refers to the fact that our brains differ from person to person. Neurodiversity is an umbrella term that covers all types of brain that are structured in a different way. This includes, for example, the spectrum of autism, ADHD and dyslexia, but includes many other things as well. However, it is important to recognise that large differences can also occur within these types of brains. Judith: “The organisation wants to recognise the differences between people and respond to everybody’s capacities and needs.” On 29 May, a lunch meeting of the ERG Neurodiversity will take place. Would you like to join the ERG Neurodiversity? Then please send an email to Judith.

D&I Taskforce

Above the local D&I teams and ERGs is the D&I taskforce. This workgroup at management level produces the NWO-I-wide diversity policy. Besides Judith, the group consists of the following members: institute directors Jessica Dempsey (ASTRON) and Michael Wise (SRON), institute managers Martin van Breukelen (DIFFER) and Femke Tabak (NSCR), Henk Tamsma (head P&O NWO-I), Kim Damen (team leader Communication NWO-I), Léon Ouwerkerk (HR manager CWI/LGBTIQA+ coordinator), Iris Koopmans (board secretary NWO-I/WISE coordinator), Patricia Vogel (deputy chair NWO-I office works council) and Lisa Kohl (researcher and founder of the CWI women’s group). Judith: “The group regularly comes together to further outline the policy. It is currently involved in several workshops to revise the D&I implementation plan and establish goals. For example, when we talk about D&I, it is also important that we talk about equality. The D&I teams will also be involved in these revisions at a later stage.”

Diversity training

In conclusion, Judith enthusiastically talks about the training followed by both P&O and communication advisers. “The P&O advisers from the institutes and NWO-I office followed an intensive, eight-month training trajectory about inclusive recruitment and selection. At different moments, the group came together to train; at other moments, there was time for intervision. Mid-April, all communication advisers from NWO-I came together for the one-day training Inclusive Writing. I joined that, and we learned a lot about the use of inclusive language and images. For example, how to refer to somebody who is non-binary (a person who does not specifically feel male or female) in a text? This led to a discussion, but mainly to a lot of new insights.”

More information

Would you like to know more about diversity and inclusion at NWO-I, the local D&I teams at the institutes or at the NWO-I office? And/or would you like to know more about the ERGs that exist within NWO-I? Then please visit the D&I page on the NWO-I website. Or contact D&I project leader Judith Kreukels.

Text: Melissa Vianen

Newsletter Inside NWO-I, May 2024
You can find the archive of the newsletter Inside NWO-I on the NWO-I website.

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